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CSBG Archive

The Comic Book Alphabet of Cool – Q

We continue our tour through the alphabet, with a different cool comic book item each day, from A to Z!

Today we look at a hero who was replaced with a female hero of the same name when he was killed off.

You know what, I would love to regale you with reasons why Vic Sage, the Question, is awesome, but since Eric Newson wanted me to feature the Question so bad, I think it makes more sense for me to use Eric’s words to tell you about the Question!

Here, courtesy of Eric’s awesome Question web site, is a look at the history of the Question!

Any discussion of the Question has to start with his creator, a writer / penciller named Steve Ditko, known for his uncomprimising attitude and fierce independence, a passion for the works and beliefs of Ayn Rand, and the rigid black-and-white moral code that served as the basis for most of his work. Oh, and he also co-created some character named Spider-Man.

When Ditko left Marvel in 1966 (the reason remains a subject for debate), he found himself in familiar surroundings at at Charlton Comics, where he’d helped create the atomic superhero Captain Atom during his first decade of work in the 50s (as well as tons of other characters and stories in the pulpy Charlton pages). Ditko first worked to revitalize Cap in the age of the Action Hero, then, in the back pages, turned his interests to a decades-old character named the Blue Beetle. Ditko replaced the old Beetle with a new face, new gadgets and a quick wit, and soon the popular new Blue Beetle was starring in his own book.

For the back pages of Blue Beetle, Ditko created a hero that expressed Ditko’s personal morals and philosophies. He was given the name Victor Sage and a gimmick: a mask that, instead of giving him a new alter-ego face, gave him none at all. The faceless hero was nicknamed the Question, and Charlton had another Ditko hit on it’s hands. But the profits were down for Charlton Comics, and the hero line was downsized. Ditko’s Question was featured in all five issues of Blue Beetle and one full-length issue of his own, inexplicably entitled “Mysterious Suspense.”

It is a testament to Ditko’s skill that this character, few as his Charlton appearances may have been, still inspires discussion and debate to this day.

The Question was featured in a CPL/Gang Publication, a sort of fanzine run by Bob Layton called “Charlton Bullseye.” Ditko could not be reached to do a Question story, so Layton turned instead to the artist’s artist, Alex Toth for the artwork. The Question next featured in a second version of Charlton Bullseye, this time put out by Charlton itself, though the company was already beginning its death throes. The final appearance of the Question before moving to DC came in a book called Americomics Special, which united Captain Atom, Nightshade, Blue Beetle and The Question in a sort of Justice-League-type team called the Sentinels of Justice. Before the issue hit newsstands, the characters were resold to DC.

Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan’s version of the Question debuted to jeers from the Ditko audience who cried foul on O’Neil’s non-objectivist portrayal of Ditko’s creation. O’Neil addressed the issue by having The Question die at the end of the first issue, resurrected in the second and born again as a wholly different character. O’Neil’s Charles Victor “Vic Sage” Szasz was an orphaned protector of a hellhole — Hub City — taught by a zen Kung Fu master, and dealing with a wealth of grotesque characters and villains as Hub toppled like Sodom and Gomorrah around him. The series became known for it’s thoughtful handling of real-world issues, an excellent letter column, and, from some, for not being Ditko. The series featured detailed and absorbing art by a young African-American named Denys Cowan, who, along with inker Rick Magyar, was twice nominated for the Eisner Award for best art team.

After the Question series, and a brief follow-up Question Quarterly finished their runs, Vic Sage skipped here and there across the DC universe, making appearances in other O’Neil-penned one-shots and cameos in other characters’ books. Giordano joined writer/inker Bob Layton (former Charlton Bullseye publisher) for a simple-but-fun six-issue teaming of the Charlton heroes called the L.A.W. Under the helm of writer Greg Rucka, a self-professed fan of the O’Neil series in college, the Question began a relationship with Gotham vigilante The Huntress in a six-part series called Cry For Blood.

Writer Rick Veitch and artist Tommy Lee Edwards took a new approach to the Question in their 2004-05 six-issue miniseries, turning the Question into a sort of urban shaman who “spoke” to cities through a channel of lifeforce. In the miniseries, the Question comes to Metropolis and has a run in with Superman himself, and it’s revealed that, in journalism school, Vic had a huge crush on Lois Lane.

After successes with animated Batman and Superman cartoon shows, Warner Bros. decided to expand their roster of heroes in 2001 with an animated Justice League. The show featured Wonder Woman, Flash, Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter and John “Green Lantern” Stewart alongside Batman and Superman in more cosmically epic tales aimed at both kids and long-time fans of DC Comics.

As the Justice League cartoon gained popularity on the Cartoon Network, the rosters were expanded again in 2004 to include anyone and potentially everyone in the DC Universe. From B’wana Beast to Vigilante, any character imaginable had the potential to be a member of the Justice League for an episode. Enter the Question.

The animated version of the Question was voiced by Jeffrey Combs, famous for the Re-Animator films and his appearances on Star Trek and Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. Bruce Timm, the producer and originator of the series’ style, spoke to fans at a panel at 2004’s WonderCon: “”When we recorded the episode with him, we got Jeffrey Combs, from the Re-Animator movies, to play The Question. And he’s so creepy. He’s like the creepiest hero character we’ve ever had in any of the shows. We were all totally jazzed when we recorded that show. He was awesome.”

Not quite the same as either the Ditko or DC version, the Question on JLU was an investigator of conspiracy theories just on the nuttier side of the X-Files’ Fox Mulder, just a little less wild than the Question analogue Rorschach from Alan Moore’s Watchmen. From his first appearance in the episode “Fearful Symmetry” (a potential dual reference to the Supergirl clone who appears in the episode and to Rorschach), this version of the Question was a hit with both creators and fans. Dwayne McDuffie told Comic Buyer’s Guide Magazine that, “Question seemed special from the first script. About halfway through the first recording with Jeffrey Combs, I looked over at producers Bruce Timm and James Tucker and said, ‘Let’s just do The Question Show from now on, okay?'”

JLU ended its run in May of 2006, with the Question having appeared in at least seven and having had a major role in five episodes.

In his last comic book appearances, Vic Sage showed up in the pages of 52, where he served as a mentor to Renee Montoya…

Eventually, Vic died…

And he wanted Renee to take over for him, and after some self-growth…

That’s exactly what she did, becoming the NEW Question!

Renee will soon be following in Vic’s tradition in ANOTHER sense, as she will soon be a back-up in the pages of Detective Comics, just as Vic was a back-up to Blue Beetle!

36 Comments

No mention of the Question’s appearances on Justice League Unlimited? A bit of an oversight, that.

I mean, L.A.W. got a mention, but no JLU?

Have a good day.
John Cage

Nicely written but i have to agree with John, JLU gained the Question a massive number of new fans, only for him to be killed off.

The lack of a mention of JLU is for the same reason that 52 and Renee aren’t covered — somebody needs to update their website!

Thanks so much for featuring The Question (and the site!), Brian!

Well played, Brian! :)

Aha! The other reason is that Brian pulled this write-up together from my introductions to the Charlton and DC comicographies for the Q? The JLU intro can be found here: http://www.vicsage.com/jlu/

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 23, 2009 at 4:50 am

I loved the O’Neill/Cowan Question run, even the annuals crossed-over to Green Arrow and Batman.

The Veitch/Edwards wasn’t so bad either.

I’m surprised that Rorschach wasn’t mentioned, as some might easily compare the two since they’re both from Charlton, and similiar in looks, tho’ different methods in dispensing justice.

Speaking of which, I believe that one issue of the Question deliberated the Watchmen/Rorschach connection.

Tom F., Rorschach isn’t from Charlton. An early concept of Watchmen was to use the Charlton characters when DC acquired them, but it was nixed, so pastiches of the Charlton characters were created for it. Rorschach clearly derives a lot from The Question.

I really need to track down that Veitch/Edwards mini. I remember preview pages from that looking pretty damn amazing.

Also, yeah, JLU deserved a mention. Jeffrey Combs did a spectacular job voicing Vic.

” Also, yeah, JLU deserved a mention. Jeffrey Combs did a spectacular job voicing Vic. ”

The tips of shoelaces are called agelets! Their purpose is sinister! ( paraphrased )

I feel that replacing Sage with Montoya was one of the (many) bad ideas brought about by 52/One Year Later. We lost an interesting, already-well-established character (Sage) and have his identity imposed unnecessarily on Montoya, another also well-established, interesting character. The sum feels weaker than the parts; it’s as if a DC character HAS to be costumed to matter. Bah.

I love Ditko and O’Neil’s versions equally and I considered it to be a very natural progression for the character. Sage was just one of many liberals who had to admit with some embarrassment that he had been a Rand-disciple as a young man, then gotten some common sense beaten into him. Ditko’s Sage is a very believable 24-year old, and O’Neil’s is a very believable 35 year old.

I just re-watched Gail Simone’s fantastic “Double Date” JLU episode last night. In that ensemble environment, “crusading journalist Vic Sage” wouldn’t have stood out very well, so it was a brilliant idea to incorporate elements of Rorschach back into the character. It turns out that the Watchmen do work as a kid’s cartoon after all!

I think the actual DCU should take a cue from the DCAU and re-invigorate the Charlton characters by borrowing more of Moore’s characterizations. Wouldn’t Captain Atom be a lot more interesting if he was more like Dr. Manhattan?

The Question/Montoya thread in 52 was by far my favorite part. Question’s death really hit me, but I was so happy to see Renee take up his role.
Really looking forward to checking out one of those older runs.

Even though the Question’s gone through a lot of changes over the years, every run was pretty good. Ditko, O’Neill… I thought the Veitch/Edwards mini was brilliant. But I miss Vic Sage.

Wouldn’t Captain Atom be a lot more interesting if he was more like Dr. Manhattan?

Yes, and Ted Kord would be a lot more interesting struggling with his weight and trying to maintain a relationship with Eve Eden than dead.

Killing of Vic Sage and forcing Renee Montoya into the role of the Question is one more example of the current DC using things up instead of creating things, or telling interesting stories using stuff other people created.

“Yes, and Ted Kord would be a lot more interesting struggling with his weight and trying to maintain a relationship with Eve Eden than dead .”

I’m pretty sure that part of the reason DC thought it was OK to kill off Ted was that he was a guy with a heart condition trying to maintain a friendship with Barbara Gordon at the time.

(There’s also a decent chunk of JLI dedicate to Ted’s issues with his weight.)

I was hoping you would do the Question for “Q”! I never read any of the Charleton stuff, but loved the O’Niel run. That was probably my favorite book at the time it ran…excepting maybe Gaimen’s “Sandman,” of course!

I want Quasar not this question BS. You got me all excited with your intro and then…..blech

I like the Question and was bummed he was killed off just as my interest in him was growing. But you are really gonna do this to the Quasar guy….really? Mua ha hahaha!

Why not? He did it last time.

Brian punked me again. At least Vic Sage’s a cool character. And the week-48 cover’s sweet.

I’d say more, but tears of frustration make it hard to see what I type.

I thought the transition from Vic to Renee was really well handled actually.

It was a natural character evolution.

Sure I’ll miss Vic, but I’ve enjoyed all the Renee Question stuff so far and imagine I will going further as well.

For a group that complains when nothing happens, it’s amazing how many comic fans are outraged by actual change.

Good call. I love the Ditko Question stuff, and absolutely adore the O’Neil series. I preferred Vic as the Question and Renee as a cop, but whaddaya gonna go?

It does say something for Rucka’s Gotham Central that two of the books main characters went on to become DCU bigshots; Crispin Allen as the new Spector and Renee Montoya as the Question.

No slight against either character, Bob, but I think that only says that Rucka had significant creative control at DC when those decisions were made, not that other creators independently said, “Hey, let’s use these characters!”

Is anyone still ON the Gotham police force? Besides Gordon, I mean?

They brought Maggie Sawyer over, Buttler!

I liked Sawyer better in Metropolis. She was one of Byrne’s best additions to the Superman supporting cast.

She was great in Metropolis, but she was not being used, like, at ALL, so I like the transfer.

Granted, outside of Gotham Central, no one is using her now EITHER, so I guess it is a wash.

They recently introduced a sort of interesting new cop, but she was transferred to Metropolis (Robinson created her and now took her to his Superman supporting cast).

Are you referring to the Guardian’s granddaughter? She’ll probably end up replacing him.

Yeah, I forget her first name.

Oh, and Harvey Bullock is back on the Gotham Police force, too!

It makes no sense, but he’s awesome, so I’m cool with it!

I was glad when he returned to Gotham after the Vigilante took himself out. His return might not make sense but Harvey himself made far more sense than Gordon ever did. He tolerates the Batman, but doesn’t like him. doesn’t trust him, and makes sure everybody knows that he hates having to tolerate him. Bullock is probably the most believeable cop in Gotham now that Gotham Central has ended.

Let’s just hope no one turns him into a long-unused superhero!

Are you referring to the Guardian’s granddaughter?

You mean … replacing a character from the Gold or Silver Age with a younger person of a different race and/or gender? What a fresh, original idea!

Harvey Bullock is going to become the new Fat Marvel.

agreed with Bob, Harvey is probably the most believeable ‘good’ cop in Gotham, the place is corrupt to the core for the most part and a guy like Harvey seems like the type of cop that would have to exist in Gotham while being on the side of good. He will compromise but not break.

Can’t think of his name at the moment, but there was a cop on NYPD Blue who always made me think of Harvey Bullock. They should get that guy if Bullock ever gets to appear in a Batman movie.

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